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Folk Songs and Folklife
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Princess at a Puerto Rican festival in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1987. Photograph by Mario Montaño. Lowell Folklife Project. American Folklife Center. (LFP-MM-C007-20)

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The Archive of Folk Culture within the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress has field recordings of songs, music, and narratives that open windows upon selected images and contributions of Latinas. In April 1999, the American Folklife Center put Hispano Music and Culture of the Northern Rio Grande: The Juan B. Rael Collection online as part of the American Memory collections. Recorded in 1940 by Juan Bautista Rael of Stanford University, the collection contains examples of the religious and secular music of Hispanic Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado, including a march performed by Ernestina Anaya of Rio Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico, and “Voy para Belén” (I go to Bethlehem), sung by Rosabel Espinosa of Antonito, Colorado.

Complementing the Rael collection are four volumes of the J.D. Robb Collection of Folk Music Texts (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1972; PQ7078.N4 R6 1972 AFC), located in the center's reading room, containing transcriptions of the texts of folk songs from New Mexico. Some of the songs present women as symbolic figures, objects of desire, wives, mothers, victims, and saints. Sixty-five tapes of Hispanic Southwestern music (AFS 15459-15523) join another twenty-two records of Spanish American folk songs that Robb recorded in New Mexico in 1944 and 1948 (AFS 6144-6151 and 9610-9628, respectively).

The Folklife Center preserved the personal devotions of Latinas when it conducted a field documentary project in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1987 and found Puerto Ricans there preparing for religious festivals. “Puerto Rico Recordings in the Archive of Folk Culture” (finding aid no. 12, LCFA, August 1993) details recordings of Puerto Ricans on the island and in the continental United States held by the Archive of Folk Culture. The center also can make available film of a live concert of Tejana singing sensation Lydia Mendoza (b. 1918), “the Lark of the Border,” who recorded more than two hundred singles during her career. Mendoza has become an iconic figure among Chicanas as seen in the screenprint portrait by Ester Hernández in the Fine Prints Collection in the Prints and Photographs Division (see illustration in the section Latinas, Beginnings).

As part of the Bicentennial celebration of the Library of Congress in 2000, the Folklife Center, together with members of Congress, created the Local Legacies project to collect new materials on folkways in the United States. These materials include descriptions of such folkways as Paula Rodríguez's demonstration of her straw applique techniques in New Mexico.

The Federal Writers' Project Papers, 1936-39, held in the Manuscript Division, provide an interesting documentary record of folklore in both rural and urban areas. Items from New Mexico, for example, discuss Christmas customs and fiestas; the growing disuse of the typical Spanish shawl, el tapalo; observations of wedding feasts; and even mention the legendary figure of “La Tules,” also known as María Gertrudis Barceló (see discussion in the section Latinas, Beginnings).

Federal Writers' Project writers Genevieve Chapin and Lorin W. Brown collected and translated proverbs and folktales (see container A641) with earthy advice, such as “En casa de muger [sic] rica ella manda y ella grita” (in the house where the wife has brought the money, she is the chief and wears the breeches) or “Más vale fea con gracia que linda sin ella” (the homely girl possessed of grace [graciousness] is better than the beauty lacking it). Here too, the researcher can find the first in a series of reports on witchcraft and the occult among the Latino population (container A645). For example, in the legend of Tia Toña in 1895 or the Witch of Arroyo Hondo as related by Marcos Váldez to project writer Reyes N. Martinez, members of the community saw a ball of fire rising out of Tia Toña's chimney, a sure sign of a witch, and followed it to a coven of dancing witches. On other nights she ran a gambling operation and prepared food. Balls of light also appear in an account of witchery among Mexican Americans in Hall City, Nebraska, written by Wilbur Cummings (see container A749). A woman named “Bruja” (witch) supposedly had the powers to become invisible and to remove her eyes and replace them with cat's eyes. She could see at night and fly about like a firefly, invisible except for a tiny light field, as she sucked the blood of infants for sustenance.

SAMPLE LCSH: Folk songs, Spanish—[name of state or United States]; Tejano music; Conjunto music; Hispanic Americans—Music; Mexican Americans—[name of state or United States]—Music; Folk dance music—[name of state or United States]; Alabados.

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